A transfer story from 40 years ago that might have escaped your attention. Late in December 1972, Spanish football fans awoke to a dramatic headline featured prominently on the front cover of a major Madrid sports paper. Real Madrid and George Best jointly announced they had agreed terms for a transfer that would see the Manchester United star move to the Spanish giants. An accompanying picture showed Madrid’s President Santiago Bernabéu with an avuncular arm around the shoulder of the club’s stellar new signing.
The story didn’t scrimp on the financial details behind the transfer either. Best would be paid a signing-on fee over the course of his contract of more than 6 million pesetas (£65,000) and a monthly salary of 50,000 pesetas (£300). The club would grant him use of a luxury apartment in the city and he would be entitled to 30 days annual vacation. Best promised to cut his hair and shave off his beard and would mark the occasion of him becoming a Madrid player by publicly singing the club song “Hala Madrid.”
For those of you scratching your heads at this apparent re-write of football history, the clue came in very small print in the last line of the article – ‘Ah! Los Santos Inocentes!’. El Día de los Santos Inocentes – the Day of the Holy Innocents – is a faintly religious holiday in Spain each December 28th and is better known as the Spanish equivalent of April Fool’s Day. This was a phantom story by the newspaper to hoodwink some of the club’s more gullible fans.
Now BTLM actually thinks as pranks go this was a fairly poor effort, mocked up photo of a besuited Best in Madrid aside. The George Best of 1972 was not the George Best of 1968 and by this stage of his United career he was better known for skipping training to spend time with beauty queens than his performances on the pitch. This was not a player who would walk into any team in the world and, even if he had still been good enough, there was the not-insignificant hurdle of foreign players being banned from the Spanish game anyway.
Admittedly some South American players, mainly Paraguayan, were being registered by Spanish clubs because of an obscure rule that allowed citizenship for players who could prove Spanish heritage. But not even the smartest of agents could have fabricated paperwork to show that one of the world’s most iconic Irishmen had any sort of Spanish lineage. Gullibility knows no bounds though and the story backfired somewhat on its perpetrators. Hundreds of Madrid supporters swamped the newspaper’s telephone lines to enquire about the transfer and brought down the entire exchange.
If you hadn’t worked it out by now, this post is our small concession towards our very own April Fool’s Day. It’s probably in keeping with what BTLM stands for that our prank comes from 1972, it’s obscure, foreign, borrowed and wasn’t even especially clever first time round!